Postpartum Depression Screening

Postpartum Depression Screening
Cropped shot of a female doctor using a digital tablet

Postpartum means “after birth.” A postpartum depression screening is a set of questions you answer. Your health care provider uses the screening to help find out if you have developed depression related to having a baby.

Postpartum depression is different than the “baby blues.” With the baby blues, you may feel sad, weepy, or anxious starting about three days after childbirth. These feelings tend to come and go, and usually get better on their own within a week or two. But postpartum depression is a serious mood disorder that may last for months and may not get better without treatment.

Symptoms of postpartum depression usually start between one to three weeks after birth. But they can begin anytime during the first year after your baby is born. The symptoms are more intense than the baby blues and may include extreme hopelessness and a lack of interest in the baby. Postpartum depression can affect your health and your baby’s development, too.

Depression after birth is common, but it’s not a regular part of having a baby. It may have more than one cause. Sudden changes in hormone levels that happen after a pregnancy may be involved. Lack of sleep, stress from new routines, and other changes may also play a role in triggering postpartum depression.

A postpartum depression screening helps diagnose the condition so it can be treated early. And early treatment can help prevent long-lasting depression. Most people get better with medicine and/or talk therapy. In the most serious cases, treatment may include brain stimulation therapies, such as electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), also called “shock therapy.”

Other names: postpartum depression assessment, EPDS test

What is it used for?

A postpartum depression screening is used to help find out if you have depression after giving birth. The screening is often used as part of a routine checkup a few weeks after your baby is born. The test may be repeated to check for depression symptoms that may develop later.

Why do I need postpartum depression screening?

Anyone who has had a baby can develop postpartum depression. So, medical experts recommend screening for depression as part of routine care after childbirth. But if you have symptoms of postpartum depression, don’t wait for your routine checkup. Contact your provider to have a screening as soon as possible.

Symptoms of postpartum depression include:

  • Feeling sad or empty most of the time
  • Eating too much or too little
  • Sleeping too much or too little
  • Crying a lot
  • Feeling angry
  • Pulling away from family and friends
  • Worrying or feeling anxious
  • Not having any interest in your baby
  • Constant doubts about your ability to care for your baby
  • Thinking about hurting yourself or your baby

If you have thoughts about suicide, or hurting yourself or your baby get help right away:

  • Call 911 or go to your local emergency room
  • Contact a crisis hotline. In the United States, you can reach the National Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at any time:
    • Call or text 988
    • Chat online with Lifeline Chat
    • TTY users: Use your preferred relay service or dial 711 then 988
    • Call 988 then press 1
    • Text 838255
    • Chat online

    You may be more likely to develop depression after birth if you:

    • Have had depression or bipolar disorder or a family health history that includes these conditions
    • Don’t have support from family or friends
    • Had a multiple birth (twins, triplets, or more)
    • Have a baby in your teens
    • Had health problems in pregnancy
    • Had a preterm labor or other birth problems
    • Have a baby with special needs

    What happens during a postpartum depression screening?

    You may have a postpartum depression screening as part of a routine checkup after giving birth. Your baby’s provider may also screen you for postpartum depression at your baby’s routine well-infant visits.

    During the screening you’ll answer a set of questions. Your provider may ask the questions, or you may fill out a questionnaire form to discuss with your provider later. One of the most common questionnaires is called the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale (EPDS). The EPDS includes 10 questions about your mood and thoughts.

    Your provider may also order a blood test to find out if a physical condition, such as hyperthyroidism or hypothyroidism, may be causing your depression.

    During a blood test, a health care professional will take a blood sample from a vein in your arm, using a small needle. After the needle is inserted, a small amount of blood will be collected into a test tube or vial. You may feel a little sting when the needle goes in or out. This usually takes less than five minutes.

    Will I need to do anything to prepare for a postpartum depression screening?

    You usually don’t need any special preparations for a postpartum depression screening.

    Are there any risks to screening?

    There is no risk to having a physical exam or taking a questionnaire.

    There is very little risk to having a blood test. You may have slight pain or bruising at the spot where the needle was put in, but most symptoms go away quickly.

    What do the results mean?

    If your screening shows you may have postpartum depression, it’s important to get treatment as soon as possible. You may need treatment from a mental health provider. A mental health provider is a health care professional who specializes in diagnosing and treating mental health problems.

    Along with medicine and talk therapy, there are things you can do at home that may help you feel better, such as:

    • Asking for help caring for the baby and doing other household chores
    • Spending time with other adults
    • Taking time for yourself
    • Resting when the baby rests

    Is there anything else I need to know about a postpartum depression screening?

    You may have heard the terms “perinatal depression” and “peripartum depression.” They both describe depression that happens either during pregnancy or just after birth. Research shows that depression during pregnancy increases your risk of postpartum depression. To help prevent postpartum depression, some medical experts recommend depression screening during routine pregnancy checkups.

    A rare but more serious form of postpartum depression is called postpartum psychosis. Postpartum psychosis may cause hallucinations (seeing or hearing things that aren’t real) and confusion. It is a medical emergency and it’s important to get help immediately by calling 911 or going to the nearest emergency room.

    Courtesy of MedlinePlus from the National Library of Medicine.